Thousands of lives saved as Herat cleared of landmines

Herat was among the provinces heavily infested by tens of thousands of landmines and unexploded ordnances. (Courtesy photo)
Updated 18 February 2018
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Thousands of lives saved as Herat cleared of landmines

KABUL: Clearance of landmines from Herat after 40 years is nearing completion and was hailed by Afghan provincial authorities on Saturday as a remarkable life-saving work and “great news” for the people of the city.
Halo Trust, which has a long history of demining in Afghanistan, announced on Feb. 15 that 14 out of the 16 districts in Herat are safe following the completion of 10-year-long clearance operations by the UK-funded organization.
“This is certainly great news for the people of Herat,” said a spokesman for the governor of Herat.
Talking to Arab News, he said: “The public’s concern has been addressed. We had a ceremony marking the announcement that there is no danger to the lives of people from landmines and unexploded ordinance in those areas.”
The official added: “Thousands of kilograms of (explosive) materials were removed and destroyed. If one kilogram could kill at least one person then the number of lives saved amounts to thousands.”
Abdul Latif Rahimi, a senior operational officer for the Halo Trust, said: “The remaining two remote districts of Gulran and Shindand have not been cleared yet because of poor security and presence of militants in the area.”
Before Halo Trust began its operations in 2008, Herat was among the provinces heavily infested by tens of thousands of landmines and unexploded ordnance including missiles and aircraft bombs — the legacy of 40 years of war — Rahimi said.
“We have cleared some 96 million square meters of area in Herat of 645,117 mines, bombs, rockets and bullets in the past 10 years,” he told Arab News.
Fortunately, given the huge area cleared, the Halo Trust lost none of its employees while unearthing the explosives, he said.
But it lost six of its staff in an abduction incident in the province.
Authorities in Herat said one of the cleared sites is being used to house tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.


Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

Updated 15 December 2018
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Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

  • Trilateral talks also focused on boosting trust and security between the three countries
  • FM Qureshi extends the olive branch for a new chapter with Kabul

KABUL: Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China held a trilateral meeting in Kabul on Saturday where they discussed measures to boost political trust and join hands for a regional war against militancy which would facilitate the Afghan peace process, even as Taliban insurgents stepped up their attacks.

The meeting was the second one to take place after Beijing had initiated the talks in December last year in order to ease the rising tension between Kabul and Islamabad whose relationship is highly critical for Beijing’s growing economic and political clout in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In recent years, China has deepened its economic and political ties with Afghanistan and is actively using its influence to bring the two South Asian neighbors closer.

Pakistan has long been accused by Afghanistan and the US of providing safe havens for Afghan Taliban leaders, by funding and arming them since their ouster in late 2001.

Islamabad has denied the allegations.

After the meeting on Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi pushed for a new chapter with Afghanistan, adding that the ongoing blame game would not help in achieving peace or building trust between Islamabad and Kabul.

He said that the Daesh and militants from Central Asia and eastern China were against the peace process in Afghanistan, urging for joint efforts to tackle the extremism.

“I am here to engage with Afghanistan. Let us not stick to the past and stop pointing a finger on Pakistan… I came here to build trust and bridges and reach peace and stability. Any improvement in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan,” Qureshi told a news conference.

The three countries signed an agreement pushing for joint efforts in the war against militancy with Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, saying that the coming weeks and months will be highly crucial in evaluating Pakistan’s intentions and its role in supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Officials from both Afghanistan and Pakistan have held a number of meetings in recent years to mend bilateral ties and work towards measures to fight militancy. However, those talks were an exercise in futility as they were followed by the two countries trading accusations and resorting to the blame game. Rabbani said that “the time has come (for Pakistan) to practically show with genuine steps” that it will fulfill its pledges.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described both Afghanistan and Pakistan as its strategic partners, adding that China had great political trust in the two. He asked both the countries to resolve their problems in a peaceful manner and backed the US’ efforts to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, urging the militant group to get involved in the process. 

“We support Afghanistan and Pakistan’s efforts for peace and we call on the Taliban to join the peace process. Cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China is important to bring peace to Afghanistan.” 

The three sides emphasized the importance of regional connectivity and economic development between them. 

Saturday’s meeting took place at a time when Washington is stepping up its efforts to hold talks with the Taliban by meeting with regional powers on how to end the US war in Afghanistan which began more than 17 years ago.

Mohammad Nateqi, a former Afghan diplomat, said that a deciding factor for Saturday’s agreement to work depended on building mutual trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan given the fact that similar conversations have taken place between Kabul and Islamabad earlier as well, without bearing any fruit.

However, at the same time, he was optimistic about positive results, reasoning that the situation had changed when compared to the past with the US increasing its efforts for talks with the Taliban.

“Such meetings can be helpful in mending ties between the countries and in helping them come closer to achieving a peace plan,” he told Arab News.